Co-directors Hideki Konno and Tadashi Sugiyama, along with Miyamoto, recently contributed insight into the origins of Super Mario Kart and F-Zero in a new issue of Retro Gamer. Although most of the time was spent talking about Super Mario Kart, the first thing they addressed was F-Zero, explaining how the game came about. They both said that “our original plan didn’t include Mario or karts. The game’s roots lie in one of the launch titles for the SNES: F-Zero.
The game was designed for single-player gameplay because of our focus on getting across the sense of speed and the size of the courses. It was a prototype for a multiplayer version of F-Zero that ended up being the starting point for Super Mario Kart, and from there we went through a period of trial and error to find what worked.
You could say that Mario was added to the racing game as a result of this trial and error. F-Zero displays the layer for the course over an area of 100 screens in order to create a feeling of speed and scale. However, because of hardware limitations, splitting the screen for multiplayer required the courses be displayed within an area no more than four TV screens wide by four screens high, i.e. 16 screens.
We tried creating an F-Zero style circuit within that limitation, but found it too difficult to race in with an F1-type vehicle, making it impossible to create a course that could give you a feeling of speed.
In a last-ditch attempt, we came up with what we felt was our only choice: kart racing. Karts were a great fit for these compact courses. However, with the drivers wearing helmets and racing suits, they all looked the same from behind and lacked individuality. It’s hard to tell who is who, so we ran into another problem there.”